A Room With No Oxygen

“Those who argue about God after His existence has already been accepted are arguing pointlessly in their Lord’s sight. His wrath is drawn over them, and they’ll receive a strong punishment besides.”Qur’an, 42: 16

Argumentation is to Muslim community life as is fire to a room full of people: it chokes the life out of it. But the interesting thing is that a fire burning in a room does not simply “create a vacuum”, as it is commonly misunderstood, but rather it produces carbon dioxide, a poisonous, colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas, which if its presence goes undetected, can kill. The reason carbon dioxide is so dangerous is that one simultaneously inhales it while also breathing in oxygen. In other words, there is just as much carbon dioxide produced as there is oxygen used. The result, in our case here, is communal asphyxiation.

Social media has provided an, to quote David Bowie, “unimaginable” and “exhilarating and terrifying” means of communicating. Sadly, it seems to have fostered a spirit of argumentation that has spilled over from our traditional spaces (masjids, etc.) to even our online spaces. The words of the Prophet are a beautiful and necessary reminder at how dangerous the tongue (even if articulated through the keyboard!) can be,

قلت يا رسول الله ما النجاة‏ قال أمسك عليك لسانك وليسعك بيتك وابكِ على خطيئتك

“I asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, ‘How can salvation be achieved?’ He replied, ‘Control your tongue, keep to your house, and weep over your sins’.”reported by ‘Uqbah bin ‘Amir, collected in Riyadh al-Salihin

#MiddleGroundPodcast – Abject Argumentation – Presented by the Lamppost Education Initiative

[Direct download]

أَنَّ الْحُسَيْنَ بْنَ عَلِيٍّ، حَدَّثَهُ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ أَبِي طَالِبٍ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم طَرَقَهُ وَفَاطِمَةَ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ أَلاَ تُصَلُّونَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ فَقُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّمَا أَنْفُسُنَا بِيَدِ اللَّهِ فَإِذَا شَاءَ أَنْ يَبْعَثَنَا بَعَثَنَا ‏.‏ فَانْصَرَفَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم حِينَ قُلْتُ لَهُ ذَلِكَ ثُمَّ سَمِعْتُهُ وَهُوَ مُدْبِرٌ يَضْرِبُ فَخِذَهُ وَيَقُولُ ‏”‏ وَكَانَ الإِنْسَانُ أَكْثَرَ شَىْءٍ جَدَلاً

Al-Husayn bin ‘Ali narrated on the authority of his father, ‘Ali b. Abu Talib, that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ came one night to see him ‘Ali and Fatimah (the daughter of the Prophet) and said,

“Why aren’t you praying (Tahajjud)? I (‘Ali) said, ‘Messenger of Allah, our souls are in the hands of God. If He wants to wake us up (to pray), He’ll wake us up’. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ left when I said this to him. I heard him say, with his back turned, striking his hand on his thigh,

“More than anything else, man is argumentative!” — Qur’an, 18: 54

in reference to the verse,

وَلَقَد صَرَّفنا في هٰذَا القُرآنِ لِلنّاسِ مِن كُلِّ مَثَلٍ ۚ وَكانَ الإِنسانُ أَكثَرَ شَيءٍ جَدَلًا

“We’ve given detailed explanations in this Qur’an, using every kind of example for people to ponder. But more than anything else, man is argumentative!” — Qur’an, 18: 54

خَرَجْتُ لأُخْبِرَكُمْ، فَتَلاَحَى فُلاَنٌ وَفُلاَنٌ وَإِنَّهَا رُفِعَتْ، وَعَسَى أَنْ يَكُونَ خَيْرًا لَكُمْ، فَالْتَمِسُوهَا فِي التَّاسِعَةِ وَالسَّابِعَةِ وَالْخَامِسَةِ

Narrated ‘Ubadah bin al-Samit,

The Prophet ﷺ said, “I came out to inform you about the Laylah al-Qadr, but as so-and-so were arguing, so the news about it had been taken away and perhaps that was better for you. So look for it in the ninth, the seventh, or the fifth of the last ten days of Ramadan”.

Non-Muslim Holiday Etiquette

I believe the proper etiquette ought to go something like this, as God relates in the Qur’an:

‏ واهجرهم هجرا جميلا

“…and cut yourself off from them – but courteously.” Qur’an, 73:10.

not “blank you and your pagan holiday”.

I find the negative banter regarding non-Muslim holidays in general, and Christmas in particular, not only fatiguing but downright reprehensible. Perhaps, like that first community of Muslims, I too have non-Muslims I care deeply about, indeed even love. What is even more ludicrous is many of these decriers do not even have non-Muslim families and thus are not truly put out by this whole “holiday fiasco”. And of course beyond that lies the unfortunate collective of self-loathing converts who feel that in order to adequately profess adherence to Islam, they must harangue non-Muslims (even their own families) over this celebration.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating some lax or liberal position on Christmas; the secular and the religious one. I do not celebrate Christmas and my loving, non-Muslim parents know and understand why. And that understanding includes that I am not rejecting them and their “dirty, kafir, pagan holiday.”

But more importantly, to return to the verse above, God Almighty has given us a way, a dialectic and a means of how to distinguish and even divorce ourselves from those actions that we deem would have consequences for us in the sight of God and in the Here-After. This separating can be down with eloquence, etiquette and esteem, not belligerence, hostility and rancor. For clearly the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم summed up his mission for us in a beautiful soliloquy (collected in Imam Malik’s al-Muwatta’):

‏بُعِثْتُ لأُتَمِّمَ حُسْنَ الأَخْلاَقِ

I was sent to perfect good character.

Remuneration for Teaching Islam

Some argue it should be, “for the sake of God”/في سبيل الله, i.e., free, but ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ûd — a great Companion of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and reciter of the Qur’an — says differently:

ثلاث لا بد للناس منهم: لا بد للناس من أمير يحكم بينهم ولو لا ذلك لأكل بعضهم بعضا، ولا بد للناس من شراء المصاحف وبيعها، ولو لا ذلك لقلّ كتاب الله، ولا بد للناس من معلم يعلم أولادهم وأخذ على ذلك أجرا ولو ذلك لكان الناس أميين

“There are three things which are indispensable for people: [1] They must have a commander who can judge between them otherwise they will cannibalize one another. [2] They must engage in the buying and selling of the Qur’an (mushaf) otherwise God’s Book will become rare amongst the people. [3] They must have an instructor who will teach their children and receive a remuneration for doing so otherwise the people will become illiterate.”

From Ibn Sahnûn’s Kitâb Âdâb al-Mu’allimîn.